The man he was addressing was a large, almost hulking, individual that was field stripping a weapon casually but expertly. He looked to be in his mid twenties, give or take a few years. The scowl on his face didn't hide his almost pretty features, but were belied by his eyes when he looked up. They were the eyes of a pure predator.
“Yea, whatta you want, Davies?”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“You just did. Now, if that's all you want, take a hike, I'm busy.”
“Naw, I mean, can you tell me something?”
“I could tell you a lot of things, such as why aren't you working?”
“I'm not on duty. I want to know something, and Corporal Sanchez said to ask you, that you'd probably know.”
Sergeant Buckles sighed, “Alright, what do you want to know.”
“Uh, where the hell are we?”
“What the hell are you talking about, you know where we are, we're on this step ship. What kind of a dumb question is that?”
“No, I mean, where are we really. There's no windows to look out of so I can't see where we are.”
“If we did have windows you wouldn't see anything. We're going faster than light so there's nothing to see.”
“See, that's what I mean. I thought you couldn't go faster than light, I don't get it.”
“To answer your question, we're probably a million miles away from when you first asked me where we were. Does that help?”
“I don't think so, I don't understand.”
“Well, I don't either, but that doesn't make any difference. Have you got your manual with you?”
Davies pilled a small, thin black square from his pocket, “Sure, I always carry it, just like regulations say.”
“Doesn't it tell you about step ships in it? It tells you about every piece of equipment the Marines and Navy have, doesn't it? It's got an encyclopedia and dictionary too, doesn't it? Why the hell are you bothering me?”
“I don't understand those big words.”
“What big words? Do you mean encyclopedia and dictionary?”
“No, when they talk about step ships. They use words I've never heard before, and I don't know what the hell they're talking about.”
“Alright, [sigh] sit down and I'll tell you what I was told. NOT ON MY BUNK, USE THE FOOTLOCKER!
You were talking about Einstein when you said we couldn't go faster than light, right?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, he also said everything is relative. That means everything is how you look at it, at least that's what I was told. Okay, when we left Earth, if we had a window it would look like we were flying away from it, does that sound right to you?”
“Yea, sure, that's what we did, didn't we?”
“Did you feel us moving?”
“No, I didn't feel anything.”
“So, if you look at it like we were standing still, then the Earth is flying away from us, understand?”
“Uh, gimme a minute, uh, yea, I think I got that.”
“Okay, say that we left at a little over half the speed of light, that was our first step and we reached point A. Now say we leave point A, again at a little over half the speed of light, how fast are we going?”
“Uh, wait, I gotta think. Uh, I guess I don't know, it depends on what you're talking about, Earth or point A.”
“That's right. Now we didn't leave Earth that fast, that was just an illustration, but we've taken quite a few steps since then, that's why it's called a step ship. Now Earth doesn't enter into it anymore, just the last point we left, understand?”
“I don't know, I got a headache. Uh, thanks, Top. I'll try to think about it. Uh, where the hell are we going? Can you tell me that?”
“Nope, 'cause we don't know. We're kinda like Columbus, we know somethings there, but we don't know what. I guess we'll see when we get there.”
Suddenly Sergeant Buckles stiffened as he heard the implant behind his left ear click on and a voice said, “Sergeant Buckles, report to Captain Anders immediately. He sub-vocalized, “Aye aye” as he rose and left his room.
He stopped in the doorway to Captain Anders office and observed the Captain sitting at his gray steel desk in the typical small government office with it's steel folding chairs. The walls were a nondescript color somewhere between ivory and beige. Although the room was deep in the innards of the ship there was a window in one wall showing a bucolic country scene through it. There was even sunlight casting shadows on the floor. The usual picture of the Commandant of the Marine Corp and some of dignitaries shaking hand with the office's resident hung on the walls along with commendation plaques.
The Captain appeared to be in his early thirties, in prime physical condition, with a full head of dark brown hair. The only thing that kept him from being very handsome was a livid scar on his right cheek that pulled the corner of his mouth up a bit in a slight, permanent, smile.
The Captain waved him in. He approached the desk, stood at attention and said, “Sergeant Buckles reporting as ordered, Sir.”
“At ease, Buckles, take a seat. Okay, we're going to be approaching that star tomorrow. Are your men and equipment ready to do whatever we're ordered to?”
“Yes Sir, as far as we know what to do. Everything is shipshape and the men are all healthy and fit, I've had them working out continuously.”
“Yea, you're right, we don't know what we're going to run into, this might be a milk run, but I sure wouldn't bet on it. We know there's planets around it and some are in the right zone, but that's all we know until the brain trust does their studies and mapping. But we have to be ready to go at any time, just in case, so put your men on ready alert.”
Sergeant Buckles rose and stood at attention, “Yes Sir. Will that be all, Sir?”
“No, close the door and we'll have a little snort, this is social time, Kurt.”
He closed the door and retook his seat as Captain Anders took a bottle and two glasses from his desk, poured a couple fingers in each and handed one to the Sergeant “I don't know how the Corp expects two men to serve together for so long and either become good friends or mortal enemies. You've been with me for twenty seven years, haven't you Kurt?”
“It just turned twenty eight last week, Sam. I'm sure the higher ups realize that, and when they see a good combination they don't want to break it up. I've been in forty two years now and served under quite a few good ones and a few bad ones. The trouble was the good ones seemed to get killed more.”
“Yea, the good ones try to lead and that tends to shorten their careers. If I do that you have my permission to hogtie me. Of course I'll court martial your ass if you do.”
“It's not like it was a couple hundred years or so ago, Sam, when you did twenty or thirty years and retired. With the anti-aging they give us this isn't a job anymore, it's a life. We can't go back to Earth so it's live or die out here.”
“It would be interesting to go back sometime though, Kurt. Even those short campaigns we went on were strange when we went back and saw how many years Earth had progressed while we lived six or eight months. But that's faster than light travel for you.
“Yea, sometimes I can't get used to when we're on the ship going so fast that a day of our time can be months or even years back on Earth. Here's mud in your eye.”
They drank their drinks and set their glasses on the desk, and again Sergeant Buckles rose and stood at attention, “ Sir. Will that be all, Sir?”
“That's all, Sergeant Dismissed.” The Sergeant did a crisp about face and left.
The next few weeks were a frenzied time for everyone on the ship but the Marines. The Naval crew were constantly changing the configuration of the hull of the ship to meet the different needs of the different planets they approached. The first one was a giant gas planet far from the sun. In order to keep hull integrity from the immense pressure as the ship sunk into the atmosphere they left it as a perfect orb that is was during its journey. A ball shape gave the most interior space with the least exterior hull.
This wasn't as difficult as it may seem as the ships whole structure was not steel or any other metal but pure energy turned into a solid. When man first converted mass into energy during the first terrible years of the atomic age they used it for war. They never thought about the reverse, turning energy into matter.
When man learned how to tap the inexhaustible energy of the universe they realized that this was possible. The following years led to the theory being put into application and now it was accomplished readily.
Taking an almost ten mile diameter ship and converting its shape was not the problem that converting its interior was. All of the spaces inside the ship had to be reintegrated into the new shape. The computer power available was able to accomplish this without any trouble, but it did leave the human occupants scrambling to find their individual accommodations especially with its next configuration..
The next planet had a very flowing surface but with a high gravity. To keep from sinking into it the ship was configured into a series of almost flat interconnected squares to cover as much surface as possible. In this way the scientists were able to gather their information directly about the different planet's resources for future use.
The next three planets were located within the star's possible liquid water zone. They made no attempt to land on these but converted part of the ship into a series of drones to approach them and gather information while the main ship plunged star ward to examine the hotter planets and assay them.
Finally all the planets had been throughly scrutinized but the three in the liquid water zone. The ship was put into orbit in proximity to them while the scientific crew went over their findings. Every conscious person on board was excitedly analyzing the information except the Marines, who were kept busy checking and rechecking their equipment and keeping themselves in top physical condition.
This was an all volunteer force, first handpicked and then put through rigorous testing, both physically and psychologically. They all knew that they would most probably never see Earth again in their lives, but wanted to be on the first interstellar colonizing mission.
There were windows on the ship's hull now as the crew had made transparent areas throughout the ship so that the planets they visited could be seen. Even the pseudo windows in the interior rooms could show scenes from all the planets as well as Earth. The Marines spent a great deal of their off duty time standing in front of them, gazing at their future homes.
There finally came the time everyone had been waiting for, the conference to tell all what had been found. The scientists led the presentation, disclosing their findings, followed by the ships officers who announced the disposition of assets. Then the colonist's representatives had their input and lastly, the Marines Order of Battle. This is a term used not to mean war, but how the troops are deployed.
The meeting was transmitted throughout the ship so everyone could know what had been found.
The head of the science department, Dr. James Kieth stood to give his synopsis of their discoveries, “As you all probably know by now, there are ten planets in this system. Two are gas giants and can be easily harvested of some of the rare gases we will need. Two are just non atmospheric stony masses, one of which is rich in rare minerals. Three more have orbits very close to the star, and although by spectrometer can be seen to have many desirable elements, are too hot to be efficiently exploited at this time.”
“Dr. Keith, I have a question.”
“Yes sir, will you rise and identify yourself for the folks who don't know you?” The man who rose was about forty years old, medium height and a little pudgy. He had slightly balding brown hair, was a little stooped and his eyes shifted around the room quickly, never holding anyone else's gaze.
“Yes, thank you. I am John Ames, one of the colonist's representatives. Most of you don't know me as I have just been revived from my cryogenic state for this meeting. Dr. Kieth, as this whole expedition is for establishing another home planet for mankind I think that we can let discussion of the other planet's assets for another time and concentrate on the ones suitable for colonies. To be blunt, can mankind live on them?”
Dr. Kieth seemed to be a little put out at being interrupted, “I was just about to get to them, Mr. Ames, but to answer your question just as bluntly, yes, no, and maybe. One planet it almost perfect, but it seems to have intelligent life. As you know, our directive is to not interfere with other intelligent life unless invited to.”
“The second planet that is viable for us has life, but not intelligent life as we recognize it. However, it is inimicable in its present state as it has a very pernicious fauna and flora and would be dangerous to try to live there without very strong safeguards.”
“The third planet could be terraformed to be very viable in time, but we're talking centuries, and I don't think you want to wait that long. There is a solution for that though. Terraforming could start and some, or all of the colonists could take a few year voyage on a ship at top speed. When you returned those centuries would have passed here. That would be due to the time difference at light speeds.”
Mr. Ames was dazed by this information and and replied, “My colleagues and I will have to discuss this before we can give you an answer,” and sat down.
The ships commanding officer, Captain Minetta, rose and stated, “As this is, as Mr. Ames stated, a colonization expedition, we will have to wait for their conclusions before taking any actions, but we stress the need for swift decisions to allow for the colonists to be self sufficient before we deplete our supplies. But, this ship and its crew will be ready to carry out those decisions.”
Colonel Ross stood, “As the commanding officer of the Marines, I pledge that we are here to protect the colonists if they need protection, and to help in other ways we can if it doesn't interfere with our primary duty.”
Captain Minetta rose again, “I think we have reached an impasse for now until we hear from the colonist's representatives. I urge you gentlemen to come to a decision. Until you do all department heads will meet in a daily assembly to try to help and explain the options. I now call this session closed.”
The gossip and rumors ran rampant through the ship that evening and the following morning. Some were silly, such as the one that said they were going to return to Earth. Some were dangerous; The Marines were going to invade the perfect planet. All were false as there had been no decisions made.
The meeting that afternoon was held in Captain Minetta's conference room. At the table were Dr. Kieth, Captain Minetta, Colonel Ross, and Mr. Ames. Seated around the walls were their staffs to answer any questions that may come up.
Captain Minetta asked, “Have the colonist's made any decisions, Mr. Ames?”
“I'm afraid we can't come to a consensus, Captain. I've been asked to act as our spokesman by all twenty five of us representatives at this meeting to see what course we could take to settle this. Is there any way we could take everyone out of cryogenic suspension to get their vote? We don't want to take the responsibilities of anyone else's decision.”
The Captain looked at him, astonished, “That is what you were voted to do back on Earth and you all agreed to do it. No, there isn't any way to awaken all one hundred thousand people to get their opinion and then return them to suspension. We couldn't leave them conscious either, we don't have the room or the supplies. What is your problem on making a decision?”
“There are different groups of us that want to take advantage of one of the three options you presented but we can't all agree on just one, Captain. Is that a possibility?”
“Mr. Ames, you people are suffering under a misconception. You were offered two options, not three. By making two ships from this one we could possibly offer both, but would have to get a crew of volunteers for the long voyage option and I don't know if we can. It would also make the whole mission more risky by splitting personnel and equipment.”
“But Captain, you said there is a viable planet here already. If the native life there is primitive they would probably welcome our advanced culture.”
“No sir, Mr. Ames, we are not invaders. Our history has had too much of that. Until they show some awareness of us and welcome us we will make no effort to contact them. That is their planet and home, not ours. I suggest that you decide on the planet that is readily available. We can waken some of your people to start a colony and I'm sure the Marines can keep you safe while you do so. Then we'll waken more as the first ones expand.”
Dr. Kieth asked, “Who would you awaken first, Mr. Ames? I suggest some of the people that are learned in biology and horticulture. They would be the ones to overcome the dangers that are there.”
Mr. Ames turned and looked at the other representatives. Some of them gestured for a meeting between themselves. He turned back and said, “I think we'll have to discuss this some more and meet with you all tomorrow, if that's agreeable.”
“Fine, Mr Ames, just don't forget that we can't stretch this out too long. Meeting adjourned.”
Captain Anders and Sgt Buckles were having a “social moment” in the Captain's office. “What do you think about what went on in that meeting, Kurt?”
“I think that twerp Ames had his butt bit by Captain Minetta. I wonder if he's going to play it safe and stay on the ship or go down with the first colonists and make sure he gets his first?”
“So you think they're going to take the unhealthy choice.”
“What choice do they have, Sam? Some might want to take the long trip but I don't think many will. They don't know what they'll find when they get back. They knew this might be scary and they know that we'll take care of them.”
“Yea, that's how I see it too.”
Just then they both heard, “Captain Anders and Sergeant Buckles, report to Colonel Ross immediately.”
As they stood at attention in front of Colonel Ross's desk he looked them over, “I think you know why I've called you here but in case you don't I'll tell you. I want to get a jump on this before the colonists get ready to go down to the planet. Captain Anders, I want you to take your platoon down and set up a beachhead so that when they do go down it'll be as safe as you can make it. Any questions?”
“Yes sir, how large an area should we secure?”
“As large as you can and still be secure. I've already given the order to wake another platoon for a backup in case you run into anything you can't handle. They won't be ready for a couple days which should give you plenty of time to prepare.”
“We're ready now, Sir. We've been on ready alert for some days.”
“Good, I knew I could rely on you, Sam. You'll go down when it's morning on the planet, in the next couple days. Get 'em ready and then get some rest, you don't know when you'll be able to next. Dismissed.”
A few days later the Marine platoon was standing next to the outer hull in a large room. A Navy Chief stood in front of a control panel and addressed Captain Anders, “Are you ready, Sir?”
“As ready as we ever will be, Chief, let 'er rip.”
The Chief worked at his controls for a few moments and then the hull wall at the top of the room started to bend in and over the troops. It continued in this fashion until it met the floor on the other side of the room, enveloping the platoon in a closed chamber.
After a few more minutes the Chief said,”Separation complete Captain, shall I proceed?”
“Yes, proceed, and put some more windows in the hull. These men should be able to see where they're going.”
In just a few seconds the entire comparatively small ship had a transparent band around its walls. They could now see the planet slowly approaching and the mother ship receding.
As they approached the planet the Chief asked, “Is there somewhere you have picked out for landing, Sir? I see a large patch of clear land just West of here that might be good.”
“Let's take a look at it, Chief, but don't land. Stay above it a couple hundred feet. I'm wondering why it's clear when everything around it is such a thick jungle.”
They hovered over the area of about fifty acres and studied the soft sandy surface below them. The Chief sent out a small section of the hull in a thin probe that scooped up a bit of soil for analysis.
“Did you see that, Chief? As soon as you touched the surface there was a slight disturbance just aside of it.”
“No, I didn't notice anything. What do you want me to do, Sir?”
“Can you pop a ball off the end of your probe and roll it around? That may give us an idea of what's going on.”
When the ball rolled over the suspected area suddenly a large mouth equipped with long fangs erupted from the ground and enveloped the ball and a mouthful of soil and sank again beneath the surface. A few seconds later the soil fountained to the surface followed a few seconds later by the ball.
“I guess whatever that is didn't find that ball too digestible. Squirt some of that soil sealer over that area and we'll see what it does with that.”
The chief manipulated his probe into a tube and sprayed a viscous liquid over the disputed area. The mouth appeared again, took a large bite and sank. This time the sand didn't reappear, but a large beast, fully twenty feet long, in a snakelike body with a huge head and wide mouth. It seemed to be trying to rid itself of the mouthful of swiftly hardening soil sealer but couldn't.
“You might as well put it out of it's misery, Chief, and reabsorb its energy. Then roll your ball over the rest of the area and see if there's more of them. No wonder this area is clear of the jungle.”
After a few hours of ball rolling, soil sealing and creature killing they had cleared the area of six more creatures.
“What do the analyses of the air and ground show, Chief? Can we disembark?”
“Not quite yet, Sir. The air has some nasties but we've been immunized to them. The soil analysis shows some pathogens that we're not ready to deal with yet.”
“Alright, Then put up an energy shield around as much as you can of the area and seal the soil beneath it. As soon as that's done take us down to a few feet off the ground. Seal yourself in an area of the ship until we check it out, just in case. Send a report on the pathogens to the ship so that they can prepare counter measures. Then I think we can unload as soon as I make a report and get an okay.”
With his tongue he pushed a tooth to communicate with Sergeant Buckles. “Buckles, get them ready to disembark as soon as I get an okay.” He then pushed a different tooth to report to Colonel Ross and gave a full report on what had transpired. “We're ready to disembark, Colonel. May I go ahead?”
“Yes, go ahead. We've been watching you and it looks good from here, but don't take any chances. Medical says they'll have the medical supplies to counteract the pathogens in a couple hours and we'll get them right to you. The scientists will be with them so make sure you set up their labs as a priority so they can start analyzing right away.”
As soon as the hatch opened on the Marines part of the ship they rushed to their assigned guard positions around the ship. The cargo areas opened and the automated machinery started unloading. Another bay opened and Naval personnel came out and proceeded to set up the various equipment. This ship could now be seen as a tubular structure about two hundred feet long and seventy five feet in diameter with a bulbous nose on each end, hovering just above the surface of the ground.
As ordered, the laboratories were the first buildings erected by the Navy. The Marines not standing guard quickly set up their equipment consisting of various weaponry and detection devices.
It was getting late in the afternoon by now. Everything had been set up. Even the kitchens were busy cooking dinner for everyone. The ship was allowed to put out its landing pods and had settled to the ground. It would be used by all personnel for sleeping quarters. Everyone had a hot meal by shifts until all were fed. The noon meal had been battle rations.
The guard had been changed periodically during the day and would be throughout the night. Captain Anders and Sergeant Buckles were reviewing the day over a cup of coffee before they too hit their bunks.
“Things look pretty good so far, Kurt, let's hope they stay that way.”
“So do I, but you know the chances of that being slim and none. Can you imagine what it would have been like if we had just jumped off the ship without checking first? You know we're going to have times when we run into things we had no idea they were there.”
“All we can do is our best, and hope it's good enough. I'm going to bed, goodnight.”
“Good night, Sam, I hope tomorrow goes as well without any surprises.”
It was just after dawn when Sergeant Buckles was awakened by a shout in his ear phone, “Sarge, wake up, I've got trouble.” He was already sitting on his bunk, reaching for his boots, when he comprehended what had been said and by who.
“Damn it, Davies, why are you waking me up, you know that Sanchez is Sergeant of the Guard.”
“Yea, I know, but she told me to call you.”
“Why that dirty bi....well, what do you want?”
“Uh, there's something standing just outside the energy shield.”
“It's probably just an animal. It can't get in so there's no reason to call me.”
“Uh, Sarge, do animals wear clothes?”
By now Sergeant Buckles was fully dressed, “What! Clothes? Are you sure that it's not just part of it?”
“Not if it can take parts off and put it back on like it's doing with its hat.”
“Okay, I'll be right there.” Pushing another tooth he said, “Captain Anders, rise and shine, one of those surprises we weren't looking for just showed up, I'll be right there to take you to it.” Double pushing another tooth he said, “Everybody get up and dressed and get ready for action, but don't show yourselves yet until I or Captain Anders calls you.”
By now he was at Captain Anders room and met him as he came out, “What's up Sergeant?”
“It seems we have a visitor, a clothed one.”
“What! Clothes? Are you sure?”
“Not yet, and those were my exact words too. I guess we better go see, don't you think?”
They jogged over to Private Davies and looked through the energy barrier to see a squat figure standing there. It was bipedal with two arms but there the resemblance to man ended. Even though it was partially covered with what was obviously clothing it could be seen to be very heavily muscled. Its arms and legs were about the same length and with its slightly stooped posture you could infer that it was ascended from a creature that walked on four legs or still did at times.
Its large head was set farther back on its shoulders than man and had the large forward facing eyes of a carnivore. It seemed to be covered with a fine hair on all of its visible body that was a shaded brown that made it look like it had a suntan. Buckles thought it looked more like a heavy cat than any other thing in his experience.
They examined each other for a while and then the creature lifted it's lips on its short snout and spoke in a high pitched voice that sounded more like scratching metal than anything else. Its facial expression on a dog or cat would have looked like a snarl. They later learned it was a smile.
“Do we have a universal translator with us Captain? I think we're going to need one.”
“I don't know, we weren't expecting to need one, but we can transmit it to the ship upstairs and let them translate it. I don't know how we're going to talk back to it though. Wait. Chief, do we have a translator? We do, good, send it out.”
Soon, a Navy enlisted trotted out with what looked like a large watch cap. As Captain Anders put it on he told Kurt, “I'll send it to you too so you know what's going on.”
The Captain pulled down a microphone from the side of the cap and spoke into it softly. Sounds came from the speakers in the hat but the creature looked puzzled and spoke again. This went back and forth for some time until the Captain Said to Kurt, “I'm starting to get some sense of what its saying but it'll be awhile 'til we can communicate. Why don't you get something we can sit on.”
Kurt called for a bench and a Marine ran one out and they sat. The creature looked at them and with another of his snarling smiles sat himself on the ground. It took hours before they were able to get an idea of what the other was saying but finally they were able to communicate somewhat. Up until now it had been simple exchanges for the computers to get the languages figured out. Now the important things were brought up.
The creature asked, “Who are you, what do you call yourself, why are you here?”
“We call ourself man. We came here to colonize. We didn't know there was intelligent life here. We knew there was on the other planet with water so we didn't go there. In time we hoped to make friends with the other planet if they wanted to. If they didn't we wouldn't bother them.”
“How many of you are there that want to live here? Do you plan to stay permanently? How fast do you breed?”
“There are about one hundred thousand colonists on our ship but it's not sure how many had planned to stay. Some may come back to the planet with no liquid water at some later time. Our breeding has been slowed for some years because of overcrowding. That is why we are looking for more room. We had planned on a permanent colony as we thought there wasn't intelligent life here.”
“I will come back, I have to go talk. Do nothing more until I return.” With that, it rose and walked into the jungle.
“Wait, how much later?” But it had disappeared in the foliage.
Captain Anders removed the cap and wiped sweat from his head, “That damn thing is hot when you wear it for hours. Have you any ideas, Buckles, about what's going to happen?”
“I was just going to ask you that, Captain. The only thought I have is that seeing as how we don't know what the hell to do we throw it upstairs and let them figure it out.”
“That's how I know that you're very intelligent, you agree with me almost all of the time. Everything was already sent up there, I guess we wait and see what comes down to us peons.”
“Upstairs” was already having a meeting with the principal individuals in a closed conference. Captain Minetta was speaking, “Well, it looks like the intelligent beings have contacted us. I don't know why we didn't spot them on this planet before, our probes did a thorough check and there were no indications of any civilization there. Even the other planet showed no signs of a civilization that was very advanced.”
Dr. Kieth said, “But we were basing that on our ideas of civilization and advancement, they might not hold true for other life forms. They may be so far advanced that we can't comprehend it.”
Mr. Ames stood, “Seeing as how we missed them before means that there aren't many of them, why don't we just have the Marines go forward and if they try to hinder us, well, too bad for them.
Captain Minetta stood and leaned over the table to be right in Ames's face, “Mr. Ames, if I find out you're spreading that kind of swill among the other representatives I'll have you thrown do far back in the brig they'll have to pipe air to you. Do you understand?”
“Then why did we bring all those Marines with us if not to fight? We can't just let a bunch of savages run over us while we sit up here.”
Captain Minetta lowered his voice to almost a whisper as he retook his seat, “Tell me Mr. Ames, how did you become the spokesman for the representatives?”
“It was kind of mutual, no one else wanted to do it.”
“I see. Ensign, will you please ask the representatives to come in here, right now.” The Ensign hurried from the room.
Captain Ross stood, “I have ordered the Marines down there to stand at the ready and take no further action unless attacked. If attacked they are to retreat to the ship and close it. Nothing we know of can penetrate that hull. Let's hope that when whatever it is returns we'll get better word.”
Ames jumped up, “You can't do that. That's showing weakness to a bunch of primitives.”
Captain Minetta roared, “Mr. Ames, one more word from you and you'll be in the brig, now sit down and shut up.”
The door opened then and the other representatives filed in and stood there.
“Gentlemen and ladies, as I understand it there wasn't a vote to pick a spokesperson for all of you, is that correct?” At nods and quiet yeses he continued, “Then please retire to your room and do so now, Mr. Ames will not be joining you and is not in contention for the post. I will expect your decision in two hours.”
After the reps had left he called to the two Marines stationed at the door, “Will you escort Mr. Ames to the cryogenic lab. I will call ahead to have him returned to his previous state of suspension.”
Ames was almost foaming at the mouth as he was pulled from the room, “You can't do that, you old bastard, I have my rights. You martinet, you tyrant, I'll get y” The rest was cut off when the door closed.
'Dr. Kieth, will you please make a note that Mr. Ames should be the last person of the colonists to be revived. Now, where were we. Actually, I think we're done here for now until we hear from the planet, unless someone has something else. Yes, Doctor Kieth, did you want to say something?”
“Yes , Captain, don't you think it's about time to name this planet? Even if we don't stay it should have a name for history.”
“That's an excellent suggestion, Doctor, but I thought that naming it should be the colonists choice. For ease in telling them apart we should have a temporary name for all three of the ones we're interested in. Do you have a suggestion, Doctor?”
“I had thought that the one we're on could be named Prime but I hadn't given any thought to the others.
I suppose we could call the occupied one Native and the other Rock. Those names are descriptive and at least we would know which one we're discussing.”
“Very good choices, Doctor, at least until the colonists can decide. If there's no objections, so be it. Please notify your staffs. I think that's all for now. Meeting adjourned.”
Meanwhile, down on the planet Prime, the rumor mill had ground exceedingly fine from what Pvt. Davies had been able to glean from the conversation he had overheard. Rumors ran the gamut from “We are going to invade,” to “The aliens are going to wipe us all out,” and every variation between.
It was later in the day when the call went out, “Captain Anders, Sergeant Buckles, the creature is back.”
The two men hurried to the energy field to see the creature standing there. Captain Anders had on the translator cap when the creature asked in Standard English, “Would you be happy speaking in your language?”
Both men looked at the creature until finally Captain. Anders was able to gasp, “Uh, yes, of course, but how did you learn our language so quickly?”
The creature gave one of his scary smiles, “You think you only ones could record a conversation, did you? When you told this other man what I had said before it easy for computers to figure out and give me course in your language. I will have some things wrong, if I do, correct me.”
There had been a chair set outside the shield while the creature was gone and Captain Anders said, “Would you care to sit? We have tried to find a chair to fit your anatomy.”
“Ah, I think proper term is thank you, is it not?”
“Yes, that's right. What may me call you? I mean by your people and you individually.”
“In your language are Star Rovers, or Rovers. I don't think you could pronounce my name, but the closest is Toral. I will be the, is go-between right, between your people and mine.”
“Go-between is right, or liaison is fine. My name is Anders and his is Buckles. I'm sure you have things to tell us.”
“Yes, first, some going back in time about my people, Is there a word for that?
“We say history.”
“Ah, my people's history. We are much older than you, I think. We used to fly the stars too and colonize. But we do not anymore. Too much blood. Too much dead. You may learn same in time. You are not first to come here. You are first not want our world. Others are dead.”
“Do you mean you killed the ones that wanted to take your world?”
“Yes, kill all.”
“The ones that were here and tried to take your world?”
“No, kill all.”
“Their world too?”
“Yes, kill all.”
“Why would you kill all?”
“Very bad people, not want to be friends, want to kill all my people.”
“How many times has this happened?”
“I not know, very long history, maybe many times.”
“Tell me, Toral, what about us on this world, would you kill us too?”
“We not use this world, not nice world. We are happy on our world. You want this world, is fine with us. You want to be friend, is fine with us. You want our world, we kill all.”
“Will you trade with us, can we visit you?”
“ Yes, small people only. We visit with you, small people only.”
“Do you mean you want liaison between us, or an embassy?”
“I don't know embassy, explain.”
“People from our world talk to people of your world. Talk about problems between us.”
“Yes, embassy fine. You be embassy, Anders?”
'I don't know, Toral. My people decide.”
“You be embassy, is fine. Other person embassy, I don't know. I be embassy here. Is that fine?”
Captain Anders got a faraway look in his eyes for a moment. Buckles knew that someone, probably from the mother ship was talking to him. Then he sat up a little straighter.
“If we dropped the energy shield for a moment, would you like to come in for some food or drink and we can talk about it?”
Toral smiled and raised his hand with a small instrument of some kind. The energy shield disappeared. He walked forward and it came up again behind him.
“Is good shield, keep out bad things, not Rovers.”
To say that there was consternation on the ship would be putting it mildly. The conference room was packed with all the principals at the table and the staffs against the walls.
Captain Minetta stood, “First things first, have you colonist's reps picked a spokesperson?”
A middle aged lady stepped forward. She was a little on the chunky side, but very pretty. Her black hair showed a touch of gray and was in a large tight bun on the back of her head. She was quite tall and stood very straight.
She replied in a smooth but commanding contralto voice, “We have, Captain, and I'm it. My name is Mrs. Kari Smith, but I prefer just being addressed as just Kari.”
“Welcome Mrs. uh, Kari. Would you please take your seat at the table? Would you mind disclosing how the vote went?”
“No, of course not, I'm sure you'd know soon anyway. It was not unanimous and I certainly didn't think it would be. There are people that still want to take the couple year trip and they had a delegate, but I told them their voice wouldn't be forgotten, so I had a large plurality, about eighty five percent, I think.”
“Good, let's proceed. I'm sure you've all listened to the recording of the conversation that's been taking place on Prime with the Rover liaison. Would anyone care to make a statement or ask a question at this time?”
Kari stood, “I would Captain, can you tell me if there is a fall back destination if we have to leave this star system?”
“Yes there is, Kari, but it's a long shot, we don't have near the information on it that we had on this system. We know there are planets there and we suspect that they may be viable, but aren't positive. We also know there is intelligent life there, but again, we don't know how advanced. There wasn't a civilization here, we thought, and didn't know about the Rovers until we arrived. There is also a third, but we know next to nothing of it yet, the probes haven't returned.”
Dr. Kieth stood, “I can see the need for planning in the event we do have to leave here, but I think we have to have a lot more information before we make up our mind about that. So far we only have Toral's word on what their people are like. Has anyone thought that it might be a bluff? Maybe they're trying to scare us away. I, personally, don't think that, but being a scientist I like to see proof.”
Colonel Ross asked, “What kind of proof do you want, Doctor? Did you forget that the energy shield they're using on Prime is the same as what this ship is made from? If Toral can turn that on and off what says he couldn't do the same to this ship? I think we have to take his word for it that they are as powerful as he says they are. We could ask him for more proof but that might be taken as aggressiveness on our part.”
Kari stood again, “Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the majority here thinks we have our backs to the wall. If we play nice and don't try to hog all the toys, then everything will be fine. We leave them in peace and they'll leave us in peace. My question is this, when has mankind ever acted like that. I'll even give you the answer. Maybe for very short periods of time, but never for long. We've always coveted the other kid' toys and grabbed them when we thought we could get away with it.”
“So, you think this is a lost cause in the long run, Kari?”
“No, Captain, I don't. My personal opinion is that this is almost too good to be true. We have a whole planet, free and clear. All we have to do is make it livable and we can do that, probably not easily, but doable. I have two sons in that part of the ship where the cryogenic beds are and I want them to have a lifetime of hard work and then a happy old age. What we have to do is impress on people that they have to play nice. That's going to be the hard part, not taming this planet.”
Someone in the back of the room started clapping and soon the whole room was.
“Folks,” the captain said, “Here's how I see it now. We've been given the approval from the Rovers to move forward so let's do so. We'll take it slower than we first planned, but we can't continue static as we are now. I'm sure that Toral knows a lot about how we should proceed, he was walking around like it was a Sunday stroll. At the worst, we would bring everyone back into the ship and leave. But I need a vote.”
The colonist's reps went into the anteroom to vote. They returned surprisingly quick. “Captain, the majority have decided to proceed except the people who wish to take the long trip. They abstained for now until we see how things go.”
“Very well, I'll start the proceedings, thank you, Kari.”
As they left the conference Colonel Ross was walking next to Kari, “Excuse me, Mrs. Smith, did you mean what you said in there about changing people from being greedy?”
“It's just Kari, remember? And yes, I meant it, Colonel but I realize that it's not going to be easy, especially with some of the colonists.”
“Would you care to elaborate on that, Kari? By the way, my mother named me Jim, not Colonel.”
“You certainly didn't think that out of a hundred thousand people that Ames was the only pig headed one, did you?”
“No, of course not. I was just trying to get a heads up to see if I could head anything off. I'm not that used to dealing with civilians anymore.”
“I didn't mean to snap at you, Jim. There are some with us who expect to wake up to a paradise because they think that's what they deserve. Even though they were handed a good basic guarantee they thought they should have more. I remember one idiot in our town who wanted this blind lawyer to sue somebody 'cause they had more than him. When he wouldn't the jerk called the lawyer an exploiter because he got help going through school. After schooling the lawyer had worked very hard to get where he was. Sure he had some help, but the rest he did, not some government handout. Argh, I could strangle some of them.”
“I think I understand. I think I'll have Anders talk to Toral to expect some of that beforehand so he doesn't think we're all like that.”
On Prime things were progressing quite well. Toral did know a lot about the local flora and fauna. He told the scientists what were very deadly and what may be useful. They thoroughly tested everything anyway but it sped up the process quite a bit as they knew what was dangerous and what could be handled safely.
The insect life was more of a problem as they were in the millions of species, but here again Toral gave them pictorial records of them and how to counteract them. The Rovers had investigated the planet thoroughly even though they never planned to use it, much like man did to the Antarctic. They still had small a small team on the planet which is where Toral came from, he was the head of the team.
Now the hard work will start, expanding from the infinitely small area of land that they controlled, to conquering the whole of Planet Prime. This will take, at the minimum, centuries. Centuries of extremely hard work, dismal conditions, and unexpected setbacks, if it can be done at all.
During this time man will be constantly under the Sword of Damocles, the ultra powerful race of the Rovers, who have obliterated entire races because of those races' greed and aggressiveness.
Can these colonists rein these inclinations? They must to survive. Even with the Rover's help, to make a success of the colony will be brutal, without it, a disaster.
We shall see.